by Janet I. Martineau
Pure Michigan isn’t just an advertising slogan for our Great Lakes state anymore. Both the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra and Bay City’s Bijou Orchestra have embraced it in selecting the music for their 2011-2012 seasons.
Maestro Brett Mitchell of the SBSO has programmed four works by still-living composers connected to the state and is collaborating with the talents of Saginaw artist Kellie Schneider, the Saginaw Choral Society and the city’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.
And maestro Leo M. Najar of the Bijou has signed on two singers with Saginaw roots, a Celtic/maritime trio headquartered in Bay City and a tenor from Grand Rapids.
Just for fun, too, the seasons contain a little Shakespeare, Mother Goose, Superman and music inspired by Bjork -- the Islandic singer -- and French despot Napoleon Bonaparte.
First up, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, which starts out its new season on Saturday, Oct. 8, with a concert titled “A Fantastic Beginning.”
On the bill is “Red Cape Tango” from the Metropolis Symphony by Michael Daugherty. Daugherty, 56, teaches composition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and this year his five-movement Metropolis Symphony -- inspired by, yes, Superman -- won three Grammy awards.
Back in 2005, his “Hell’s Angels” quartet was performed by the SBSO -- with its four bassoon players indeed dressed as leather-clad bikers, much to the amusement of the audience that night. A year later, the SBSO also performed Daugherty’s “Sundown on South Street.”
Other colorful works by the fan of popular culture include “Dead Elvis,” “Jackie O,” “Niagara Falls,” “Bay of Pigs,” “Shaken Not Stirred,” “UFO” and “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.”
He comes by this naturally. Daugherty’s father was a jazz and country drummer and his grandmother a pianist for silent films. He grew up listening to 950s/1960s music and Broadway show tunes and was the leader of a rock band.
Also on the Oct. 8 concert are Liszt’s “Totentanz” (“Dance of the Dead”) featuring pianist Jason Hardink of the Utah Symphony and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, the story of a love-struck artist who has poisoned himself with opium.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, “Shakespearean Dreams” finds the SBSO partnering with Pit & Balcony and the Saginaw Choral Society on Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performed as originally intended -- as an overture and incidental music accompanying a staged version of Shakespeare’s play.
Also on the bill are William Bolcom’s “Commedia for (Almost) 18th-Century Orchestra” and Finzi’s Shakespearean song cycle “Let Us Garlands Bring,” with bass-baritone Timothy Jones.
Bolcom, 73, retired in 2008 from the University of Michigan faculty, having taught there 35 years, and in his career has won a Pulitzer Prize and two Grammy Awards. He and his wife, singer Joan Morris, have recorded 20 albums.
“Commedia” is his most-played orchestral work, inspired by his fascination with commedia dell-arte.
On Saturday, March 31, 2012, “Past Masters, Present Promise,” will present original artwork commissioned from Schneider. She will create original illustrations depicting the five fairytales in Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” among them Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb, and the illustrations will be projected as the orchestra performs the piece.
Schneider is a familiar face in Old Saginaw City. She was a members of The 303 Collective during its existence and most recently donated a work for a fund raiser at the Red Eye Cafe. She is the author of the illustrated novel “Cadis & Adelaide.”
Doing "Mother Goose" with original artwork is something I've wanted to do for a long time now,” says Mitchell, “and and it wasn't until I first saw Kellie's art that I felt I had found the artist who could do Ravel's brilliant music justice.”
March 31 also includes Bright Sheng’s “The Black Swan,” an orchestration of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major and Brahms’s Second Symphony.
Sheng, 55, is a native of China and also teaches composition at the University of Michigan. He was mentored for a number of years by the late Leonard Bernstein. His works often links contemporary Chinese history with western music, among them “Naking!,” “Madam Mao.” “H’un” and “Tibetan Swing.”
And capping off the season May 12, 2012, is “A Heroic Finale” -- Kevin Puts’s Björk-inspired Symphony No. 3 “Vespertine” and Beethoven’s Napoleon-inspired Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”
Puts, 39, took his inspiration from Bjork’s album “Vespertine” when he heard it and was captivated by her quirky and unusual voice. He has said of the piece, “I wanted to create an impression of her improvisatory, jazz-induced, and utterly distinctive melodic style as filtered through my own aesthetic. While no quotations exist in my piece, every melodic line reflects at some level the contours and motives of Bjork’s singing style.”
Puts spent some of his formative years in Alma and still has family there. Earlier this season, his “Millennium Canons” delighted an SBSO audience. He is on the faculty of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.
As Mitchell notes, the four Michigan-linked composers on the 2011-2012 season are considered major world composers and have longs lists of compositions for orchestras, operas, ballets, chamber music and ensembles. He wanted, he said, to celebrate that and call attention to it.
And collaborations with area artists like Schneider and P&B, he said, will be an ongoing part of his tenure here because they help him think in new and creative ways.
All of the Saginaw Symphony concerts take place at 8 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, 203 N. Washington.
As for the Bijou Orchestra, it is offering:
* Oct. 15-16, “Water Music,” featuring the Bay City trio Hoolie in a collection of water-inspired classical and popular music, among them Great Lakes songs.
* Nov. 19-20, “East Meets West,” featuring familiar classics influenced by Middle Eastern music as well as contemporary music from that region. On the bill is singer Sabrina Shaheen, living now in the Detroit area but whose parents (Dr. Samuel and Patricia Shaheen) are well known Saginaw arts patrons.
“It's going to be an interesting project,” says Najar of the East Meets West program. “I want some lectures, maybe a concert or two, all about the middle eastern musical world. There's more there than religion. Most people have no idea about the musical/cultural traditions of the Middle East and I think it would be a good idea to expose them to some of that.
Shaheen, of Lebanese descent, is a pop/jazz singer who performs original compositions and standards; is an actor, voice-over performer and dancer, and teaches piano at the Rochester Conservatory of Music. Oh, and she also is a lawyer.
* Feb. 18-19, 2012, “Birth of the Blues,” showcasing early music that lead to the blues as well as music inspired by the blues. Singing at that concert is Saginaw-born Sharrie Williams, a blues and gospel singer who has not only toured the United States but also Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Great Britain.
* April 28-29, 2012, “Closers,” a mixed bag of symphonic movements, opera finales and Broadway closing numbers, and featuring singer Brian Damson of Grand Rapids.
All of the shows are 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the State Theatre, 913 Washington in Bay City.